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The Book of Dead Philosophers

Written by Simon Critchley

The Book of Dead Philosophers
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Category: Philosophy - Individual Philosophers; Philosophy - History & Surveys - General; Biography & Autobiography - Philosophers
Imprint: Vintage
Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: February 2009
Price: $18.00
Can. Price: $0.00
ISBN: 978-0-307-39043-1 (0-307-39043-8)
Pages: 306

“To philosophize is to learn how to die.” —Cicero; assassinated by order of Mark Antony

“One who no longer is cannot suffer.” —Lucretius; suicide, allegedly driven mad by a love potion

“Life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” —Hobbes; died in bed, age 91

In this collection of brief lives (and deaths) of nearly two hundred of the world's greatest thinkers, noted philosopher Simon Critchley creates a register of mortality that is tragic, amusing, absurd, and exemplary. From the self-mocking haikus of Zen masters on their deathbeds to the last words of Christian saints and modern-day sages, this irresistible book contains much to inspire both amusement and reflection.

Informed by Critchley’s acute insight, scholarly intelligence, and sprightly wit, each entry tells its own tale, but collected together they add up to a profound and moving investigation of meaning and the possibility of happiness for us all.

“Rigorous, profound and frequently hilarious. . . . Critchley is an engaging, deadpan guide to the metaphysical necropolis. . . . Bracingly serious and properly comic.” —The Daily Telegraph (London)

“A provocative and engrossing invitation to think about the human condition and what philosophy can and can’t do to illuminate it.” —Financial Times

“This book is just fun to read. Marvelous and funny anecdotes. . . . Dip in and out of it at your pleasure.” –The New York Times

“A breezy and often entertaining tour through the history of philosophy. . . . Critchley has a mischievous sense of humor.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Anecdotal and brainy. . . . Critchley, an author who’s stylistically limber enough to write studies of Heidegger and essays for Harper’s, tackles his latest topic with dry wit, lively prose and an eye for awkwardness (in these pages, death, like life, can be messy). . . . What differentiates Critchley is his intelligence, capacity for emotional variation . . . and sense of pleasure.” –Time Out New York

“Deliriously readable [and] edifying.” –New York Observer

“Anecdotes provoke insights, so gradually Critchley compiles an encyclopedia of the history of thought and our changing attitudes toward life and death.” –Los Angeles Times

“We enjoy a little sagecide now and then, which is why we were very happy when we discovered that Simon Critchley, among the hippest of (living) British philosophers, had catalogued nearly two hundred philosophical deaths in The Book of Dead Philosophers. . . . Who wouldn’t want to read about a certain variety of smug sophist buying the farm?” –The Book Bench, newyorker.com

“A work that makes philosophy matter again. . . . Each entry [is] a piquant reminder of the brevity of life and a forceful rejection of the illusions of intellectual progress. . . . Critchley reconnects his discipline with the most universal of human concerns. For it is in pondering death that serious thinkers have discovered the wellsprings of wisdom.” –Booklist (starred review)

“[The Book of Dead Philosophers] offers an interpretation of death’s potential as a final artistic and intellectual endeavor; it is a witty and generous gift that will leave readers perhaps a little less afraid of death and more appreciative of life.” –Publishers Weekly

The Book of Dead Philosophers is something of a magic trick: on the surface an amusing and bemused series of black-out sketches of philosophers’ often rather humble and/or brutal deaths (comedy: pulling Socrates off his pedestal), it actually is an utterly serious, deeply moving, cant-free attempt to return us to the gorgeousness of material existence, to our creatureliness, to our clownish bodies, to the only immortality available to us (immersion in the moment). I absolutely love this book.” –David Shields, author of The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead

“Simon Critchley’s book looks death in the face and draws from the encounter the breath of life. No philosopher can pull a more welcome rabbit out of a more forbidding hat and Mr. Critchley does so in a prose style that is as deft as his intelligence.” –Lewis Lapham, editor of Lapham’s Quarterly

“Simon Critchley is probably the sharpest and most lucid philosopher writing in English today.” –Tom McCarthy, author of Remainder

“A fabulous concept. . . . With dash, humour and an eye for scandalous detail, Critchley motors through the centuries to let us know how big-name philosophers packed it in.” –The Vancouver Sun

“Concise, witty and oddly heartening.” –New Statesman (London), a 2008 Book of the Year

“A provocative and engrossing invitation to think about the human condition and what philosophy can and can’t do to illuminate it.” –Financial Times

“A rigorous, profound and frequently hilarious book. . . . Critchley is an engaging, deadpan guide to the metaphysical necropolis. . . . At a time when much popular philosophy is either frivolous, dull or complacent, his is a bracingly serious and properly comic presence.” –The Sunday Telegraph (UK)

“Provocative and entertaining.” –The Guardian (UK)

“Ingenious. . . . Packed with great stories.” –Time Out London

“A kind of philosophical memento mori. . . . Written with an appealing lightness of touch, and an eye for biographical detail.” –The Philosophers’ Magazine

“Full of wonderful absurdities. . . . Extremely enjoyable.” –The Independent (London)

“Critchley has a lightness of touch, a nimbleness of thought, and a mocking graveyard humour that puts you in the mind of Hamlet with a skull. There is a modesty here that reminds you that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in philosophy.” –The Independent on Sunday (London)

“A tremendous addition to an all too sparse literature. . . . Critchley’s sketches of the lives and deaths of philosophers . . . are brilliant, entertaining, informative, and marked throughout by lightness and humour.” –New Humanist (UK)

“[Critchley] brings the deaths of his predecessors to life in 190 or so energetic bursts. . . . The book differs from more punitive tomes on popular philosophy not only in its accessibility but in its sprawling cast.” –The Sunday Herald (UK)

“Surprisingly good fun. . . . Many of the brief summaries are indeed worthy of the prose writings of Woody Allen. . . . Not the least of the pleasures of this odd book, lighthearted and occasionally facetious as it is, is that in surveying a chronological history of philosophers it provides a sweep through the entire history of philosophy itself.” –Irish Times

“Critchley gives the non-specialist, the reader-for pleasure, a point of access into complex material.” –The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

“Excellent.” –The Australian


Simon Critchly is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York. He is the author of many books, most recently, On Heidegger's Being and Time and Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance. The Book of Dead Philosophers was written on a hill overlooking Los Angeles, where he was a scholar at the Getty Research Institute. He lives in Brooklyn.